Learning that the children we love have been sexually abused leads to horrible feelings of guilt and anger. No one deserves abuse, but this egregious violation is even worse when the victim is an innocent child. Child sexual abuse has long-term consequences well into adulthood for most victims, requiring years of counseling to overcome the aftermath of the physical and emotional trauma.
If you suspect someone is sexually abusing a child, stop the abuse. If he or she is in immediate danger, call 911. Any other time, you can report suspected abuse online or call the Florida Department of Children and Families Abuse Hotline at 1-800-962-2873.
If you are an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse or your child was sexually abused, Florida law entitles you to seek compensation for damages and losses related to the abuse outside of the criminal penalties an abuser might face as a result of their actions.
Contact the compassionate and experienced attorneys at Sibley Dolman and Dolman Law Group at 833-552-7274 for a confidential, free consultation to discuss the details of your case and determine your eligibility for filing a lawsuit. We serve clients throughout Florida from offices along both of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.
Below we offer more information about child sexual abuse in Florida, including how Florida defines abuse, the long term emotional impact of child abuse, parties who might be liable for child sexual abuse, and how an experienced child sexual abuse attorney can help you with your case.
Defining Child Sexual Abuse in Florida
Although you probably have a good idea of what activities constitute child sexual abuse, when you take legal action against an abuser you are bound by Florida’s legal definition of child sexual abuse. Under Florida law, child sexual abuse falls under the broad umbrella of child abuse, which includes:
…any willful act or threatened act that results in any physical, mental, or sexual abuse, injury, or harm that causes or is likely to cause the child’s physical, mental, or emotional health to be significantly impaired.
This broad definition of abuse, including sexual abuse, gives law enforcement and courts the discretion to charge and prosecute abusers for almost any kind of sexual activity with a child, including penetrative and non-penetrative sexual acts. Notice the language of the statute includes “willful acts.” This means even if a child has agreed to sexual relations with an adult, the relationship and activities still constitute sexual abuse.
Florida’s Age of Consent Law
Under Florida law, aside from a couple of exceptions, a person must be age 18 to give consent for sexual contact. Consent doesn’t come into play in cases of children under age 12. Yet, child sexual abuse cases involving teenagers might include a discussion of content. Simply speaking, minors under age 18 cannot legally provide consent. The law does have exceptions for 16 and 17 year-olds dating those up to age 23. Consent consists of six elements, which include:
- Understanding contact based on age, maturity, developmental level, functioning, and experience
- Knowledge about what standards society has placed on contact
- An awareness of possible consequences of contact
- An assumption of equality between participants
- A voluntary decision
- Mental competence to make a decision
If your child sexual abuse case involves a teenager, you need to speak to an attorney to determine how these laws might impact your case, if the teen was not threatened or assaulted.
Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse
Although child sexual abuse can be one event, many cases are ongoing for weeks, months, or years, during childhood. Fear of retaliation can prevent many victims from reporting abuse to an adult while it’s happening. In fact, researchers estimate at least 10 percent of victims never report abuse during childhood, but believe that up to one-third of all childhood sexual abuse cases go unreported. Studies also show that children who do talk about their abuse, only tell a friend near their own age. According to the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence (FCASV), only 8 percent of victims report sexual abuse to a professional during childhood.
Adult survivors commonly want to take legal action and confront their abuser as part of the recovery and healing process when they are older. Florida once had a statute of limitations, or legal time limit, for victims to hold their abusers accountable. In 2010, Florida’s governor signed a bill eliminating the statute of limitations for child abuse if it occurred before age 16. If you are an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, you have the legal right to seek justice in civil court, even if your abuse happened decades ago.
Long-Term Consequences of Child Sexual Abuse
Seeking damages in civil court is a little different for child sexual abuse than it is when a traffic accident or some other event occurs. Abuse is intentional harm. Although child sexual abuse does include physical injury, the mental trauma and emotional injury it implants in a child lasts for years. The American Counseling Association (ACA) reports the following long-term effects of childhood sexual abuse:
- Depression. According to the ACA, depression remains the number one long-term symptom associated with survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Children often internalize the abuse and think negative thoughts about themselves for years. Markers of depression can vary among people, but common things associated with childhood sexual abuse include feeling down, thoughts of suicide, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, and trouble eating or overeating.
- Guilt, shame, and self-blame. Childhood sexual abuse survivors typically blame themselves for the abuse they suffered. This is especially true when the abuser was an adult who was highly regarded and trusted by the child. The victim struggles to see their abuser in a negative way, making it difficult for them to hold their abuser accountable. Guilt and shame also lead to self-destructive and suicidal behaviors.
- Body issues and eating disorders. After suffering childhood sexual abuse, some children feel ugly or dirty and feel uncomfortable with their bodies and appearance. These body issues sometimes lead to struggles with anorexia, bulimia, obesity, and other eating disorders.
- Stress and anxiety. According to the ACA, studies show that children who survive sexual abuse have similar post-traumatic stress symptoms as war-veterans. Survivors might suffer from chronic anxiety and tension, panic attacks, and severe phobias related to the abuse they suffered.
- Dissociation. In cases where a victim suffered ongoing sexual abuse, they might have dissociated themselves from the abuse as a coping mechanism to not emotionally feel the experience. This dissociation can carry into adulthood when survivors feel threatened or unsafe. Other markers of dissociation include feelings of confusion and/or disorientation, flashbacks, nightmares, and emotional numbness. Dissociation also leads to denial and repression of sexual abuse, which is why some survivors don’t remember the abuse or come to terms with it much later in life.
- Struggles with interpersonal relationships. Establishing interpersonal relationships can be difficult for survivors of childhood sexual abuse because they have challenges with trust and intimacy. Survivors might also worry about being different than others and struggle to set healthy boundaries in their friendships and relationships. Involvement in abusive relationships as well as passivity also can emerge as a result of childhood sexual abuse. Those who experience abuse often do so by someone who they trusted and loved. When the trust is broken, some children believe the people that love them will harm them.
- Sexual difficulties. Adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes experience difficulties with sex and sexuality, typically as a result of some of the other long-term impacts like depression and dissociation. According to the ACA, the top ten sexual symptoms which survivors might experience include:
- Lack of interest, avoidance, or fear of sex
- Viewing sex as an obligation
- Feeling anger or guilt when touched sexually
- Inability for arousal or sensation
- Emotional distance during sex
- Having disturbing thoughts and images
- Partaking in compulsive sexual behavior
- Difficulty in starting or maintaining intimate relationships
- Vaginal pain or difficulty climaxing for women
- Erectile dysfunction and climax difficulties for men
The emotional trauma which comes with childhood sexual abuse does not disappear overnight, if ever. Eliminating and managing symptoms that accompany sexual abuse require an ample amount of counseling. Although these long-term effects might only impact a victim’s personal life, they do have a way of seeping into a person’s professional life. Depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms can prevent someone from being able to work and cause chronic struggles to accomplish life goals. If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you are not alone and you shouldn’t have to shoulder the financial burden that comes with therapy and lost wages due to your symptoms and struggles. A qualified child sexual abuse attorney can help.
An Experienced Attorney Can Help Child Sexual Abuse Survivors
Whether you the parent or guardian of a childhood sexual abuse victim or an adult survivor, coping with the trauma of sexual abuse or helping your child cope with trauma can be overwhelming, and even unbearable in some cases. The knowledgeable and empathetic child sexual abuse lawyers at Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman are here to help you and your family through this incredibly challenging time. We cannot undo the past, but we can help you seek justice, advocate for you and your child, and possibly secure you a settlement or court-awarded damages to help cover the costs of therapy, so you can work through your emotional trauma. Some of the ways we can help you or your child include:
Investigating the Abuse
Our firm will investigate the circumstances of the abuse to build a strong case against your abuser, while taking every measure to protect your identity and keep your case confidential. Investigative activities can entail different things depending on the circumstances of your case, but they might include:
- Gathering any police reports or medical records which provide documentation of the abuse
- Locating and interviewing witnesses who suspected or reported the abuse
- Consulting with medical experts such as child psychologists and doctors who can speak to the extent of the abuse
Negotiating With the Defense
Unlike the criminal case against your abuser, your civil lawsuit will only result in a verdict for you or the defendant. If the court rules in your favor you might collect damages related to the sexual abuse of you or your child. Yet, not all cases go to court. Some victims choose to negotiate a settlement without having an attorney litigate their case. This can be true when young children are involved and parties involved decide the child should not testify in a courtroom. Attorneys are skilled negotiators who can help you hold your abuser financially accountable for their actions. Your attorney can negotiate with the defense and pursue the best possible settlement for your case.
Advocating for You in the Courtroom
In some child sexual abuse cases, settlement is not an option, and your attorney must litigate your case. If your child sexual abuse case goes to court, your attorney will have built a case against the defense to fight for you and increase the chances of a verdict in your favor. For some survivors, litigation is imperative because it allows them to face their abusers and tell their stories. You can discuss what is best for your situation with a skilled child sexual abuse attorney.
Call Us Today if You Need a Florida Child Sex Abuse Attorney
If you or your child has suffered childhood sexual abuse, you deserve to see justice served and receive compensation for the physical injuries and long-term emotional damage caused by your abuser.
Contact Dolman Law Group and Sibley Dolman at 833-552-7274 or online for a private, confidential consultation to determine the best path forward for you. We handle child sexual abuse cases on a contingency fee basis, collecting attorney fees from any settlement or court-awarded damages you receive; we can worry about the details of your case, while you focus on healing and moving forward with your life. We have offices across both Florida coasts, so you can easily reach us anytime.
Dolman Law Group
800 N Belcher Rd
Clearwater, FL 33765
Phone: (727) 451-6900